Meet Later in Life Father Richie Jackson: Interview by Robin Gorman Newman

AGE:  54
RESIDENCE:  New York City
CHILDREN’S NAMES/AGES: Jackson (19) and Levi (3)

I am the author of Gay Like Me (HarperCollins), and I recently produced the Tony Award-nominated play Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song on Broadway. I also executive produced Showtime’s Nurse Jackie for seven seasons and co-executive produced the film Shortbus.



What did the notion of parenting mean to you prior to becoming a father, and how has it measured up?

Richie Jackson: The single dream and drive of my life has always been to be a father. I didn’t have career goals, never fantasized about money or glory or fame. All I wanted was to catch a ball in the backyard with my son. I didn’t desire power; I desired paternity. In 1984, when I was 18, I told my mother that I was gay and that I was going to be a father.

(with husband Jordan Roth and their sons)

What was your road to parenthood like?

Richie Jackson: Both of my sons were born through surrogacy. Paid surrogacy is not legal in New York State, and each time we had to leave our home state for our children to be born. As gay parents, we had to find a state that both our names could be on the birth certificate, in our case our older son was born in California, and our now three-year-old son was born in Virginia.

How does being a father influence your work?

Richie Jackson: As an LGBTQ elder, whatever I do professionally is always through the lens of what benefit would it have to LGBTQ kids.

What inspired you to write GAY LIKE ME, your new book?

Richie Jackson: When our older son was 15, he came out to my husband and me. I was elated. I hoped he would be gay; my greatest wish was for him to be gay. Then he said, “Daddy, being gay isn’t a big deal. My generation doesn’t think it is a big deal.” And I thought, “Oh no!” Being gay is a really big deal, and I realized I needed to share with him what it means to be a gay man. Being gay is a gift; it is the best most important part of me. It is a blessing. If he diminishes it, demeans it, puts it in a corner of his life, he will break his own heart and not take full advantage of the gift that it is. Then, in 2016, Donald Trump was elected President, chose Mike Pence for VP, and they declared war on the LGBTQ community just as our son was about to leave our home for college and be a gay adult out in the world. Now I had to tell him what it takes to be a gay man in America. The vigilance required to be an aware, alert, and on-alert gay man.

What is the takeaway you hope to offer readers?

Richie Jackson: Being gay is a gift.

What would you say to a parent of a gay child or a parent who thinks their child may be gay?

Richie Jackson: The advice I would give parents of LGBTQ children is to parent the child you have, not the child you thought you would have, or you thought you wanted.  You can help raise them with good self esteem. Teach them LGBTQ history, not as some responsibility, but so they understand they are part of a long continuum of extraordinary individuals who have always been part of changing the world and who will help them feel less alone. Expose them to LGBTQ writers and artists who can make them understand the power of their otherness and to guide them on how to take care of themselves and their partners. If you participate in raising your LGBTQ child, you will have a more exciting, magical adventure than you ever imagined.

Is it tough to balance parenting, a personal life and professional pursuits?

Richie Jackson: The way I have balanced the multiple aspects of my life and the advice I have given my son, as I write in my book, is to be ambitious in your personal life, prioritize your heart.

What do you see as the positives and challenges of becoming a later in life father? 

Richie Jackson: I was nervous starting over again with a new baby. My husband and I found out we were expecting when I was 50. I worried that I wouldn’t have the stamina required to parent properly, and that is certainly more of a challenge than it was when I was 35 and first became a dad.

There are parts that are easier. Having done it before and now being older, I don’t worry about nearly as much as I did the first time around. My anxiety about weaning off bottles and potty training which consumed me 19 years ago, I am now much more laissez-faire. I know he isn’t going to high school in diapers, it will happen when it happens.

The big change, though, is that at 54 I am much more secure in who I am and more set in my life than I was when I was younger. I am no longer trying to build a life and a career at the same time as raising a baby. It’s so much easier and enjoyable to have your life set, being in mid- to late-career and have the peace to concentrate on parenting.

Has anything about fatherhood surprised you? What do you love most about it, and what is the most challenging?

Richie Jackson: I love the responsibility the most, how important it is.

The most challenging is what a lousy world we now live in, devoid of empathy. I am finding it a daily challenge to parent with the requisite optimism while keeping at bay my daily despair. Now I have to try to raise our sons the way I was brought up – don’t be a follower and don’t worry about being liked. Social media has made everything about how many likes you get and who you are following.

What do you most want to teach your sons? What have you learned from them thus far?

Richie Jackson: The two things I want our children to learn is empathy and resilience. I can’t imagine sending them off into the world without those two qualities.

It amazes me how often our children teach and guide us. When our older son was four, he told us, “Don’t tell me what to do, tell me what needs to be done.” He taught us how to talk to him so he would best hear us.

Do you have any particular memories from your own childhood that inspired you with your sons?

Richie Jackson: When I was very young, my mom used to wrap me in a towel after a bath, she’d hold me tight and sing “Rock-a My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.” It made me feel so safe, I did the same with our older son and now with our toddler.

Any advice to share re: practicing good self care?

Richie Jackson: I have only one caretaking ritual that has ushered me gently into every day. I wake up at dawn before anyone else in the family and I read, not news, not Twitter, but from a novel. I start every day with creativity, words and imagination, and by 6:30am, I have already done something kind for myself.

What words of wisdom would you 0ffer someone contemplating becoming a later in life father?

Richie Jackson: Do it. All the reasons to say “No, it’s too late,” “I’m too old,” or “It isn’t fair to the child,” aren’t compelling enough to deny yourself the joy of parenting. For me, it came down to just because it won’t be 70-80 years, why deny myself 30-40 years of joy.


Note: A portion of the author’s proceeds from sales of the book help support The Trevor Project.







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